3 Ways To Create Just Another Boring Vacation Rental

That Nobody Wants to Book




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March 17, 2014

Nobody in the vacation rental business wants to own or manage a tired, boring and mediocre vacation rental.

After all, you put a lot of work into your vacation home stay. You read the latest vacation rental marketing advice and get lots of great tips on the latest booking systems, building a dedicated website, being a responsive and pro-active host, designing incentives for guests to book again.

But still. You can’t help wondering if you have a solid chance of getting anyone to really take note of your vacation rental retreat, let alone book it.

Don’t get me wrong. I have a huge amount of respect for great vacation rental marketing advice and I think you should be trying out all the latest techniques for attracting new guests, but don’t ignore the equally compelling evidence that generically decorated vacation rentals don’t get many clicks, even if you are a marketing genius. Mediocre décor begets mediocre bookings. There is no getting around that.

So ask yourself this: What makes your vacation rental aesthetically different from the thousands of other vacation rentals vying for bookings?

Most vacation rentals differ little from each other in design. The same stone countertops, the same big box store cabinets, the generic beige sofa, the framed poster, the polyester filled quilt bought at Costco, matching furniture sets – you know, the usual.

But nobody is inspired by these generic holiday rentals. Potential guests are sick of mind-numbingly boring vacation rentals that all look the same, and they scan through listing after listing like a box of popcorn. If you’re not offering anything that makes them stop in their tracks and sigh with desire, why should they hang around? Time is precious.

Next listing.

The problem is, you don’t really know how to create an extraordinary vacation home stay.

Most of the time, you feel a little overwhelmed. What type of towels should you buy, how should you configure the furniture in the living room? You can’t tell what looks good and what doesn’t. It feels like a huge, endless guessing game.

I started One Chic Retreat to address these issues, but in this article, I’m not going to tell you what to do. At least not in this post.

Instead I’m going to tell you what NOT to do. And then give you a simple way to correct it.

Sometimes you can’t understand what to do until you first understand what NOT to do. So, let’s start there.

Here’s the list of the top three design mistakes to avoid so you don’t end up in the all too common category of Mediocre and Tired Vacation Rental. How many are you guilty of?

Alright, let’s dive in….

vacation rental mistakes

1. The Granny Bedspread – Flowery or Patchwork Bed Linens

Most people love their grandmothers. I certainly do, but I certainly don’t want her translated into a bedspread. There is just nothing right about Granny in the bedroom. On vacation. You get my gist, right?

If you have one of these, please get rid of it as soon as you finish reading this blog post. If you are strangely attached to it, fold it away in your closet and only take it out for your own use. If you don’t adore it to pieces, donate it to a worthy homeless shelter.

If you’re wondering why you don’t get enough bookings and you have a Granny Bedspread, this could be the big, fat reason.

For a vivid illustration of what I’m talking about, scroll down and take a good look. These photos don’t have any links because I don’t want to embarrass anyone but believe me; they all come from real vacation rentals. Sadly, it took me less than 5 minutes to spot these; hundreds of vacation rentals have made this mistake.

Hundreds and hundreds.


Ugly flowery bedspread

As soon as any potential guest sees this bedspread, they’ll leave the page. It’s frumpy and unsexy; none of these adjectives should ever be associated with a bedroom. The only thing missing is a hobbyhorse, crochet needles, and a rocking chair.


Ugly Patchwork Bedspread

I am not against patchwork quilts but this one is hideous. I don’t even think Granny would approve. Retirement time!

Are you starting to catch on? I certainly hope so because way, way too many home stays are guilty of The Granny Bedspread.

How to Fix It

1. Get a bedspread or duvet (I personally favor duvets) made of natural fibers – linen, cotton, or even wool (in cold climates).

2. Pair it with simple white sheets,

3. Drape a gorgeous throw or blanket at the bottom,

4. Add a few chic shams at the top.

5. Then read this post for creating a romantic bedroom, to make it even better.

You’re done. End of problem.

Move on.

Look at the photos below for inspiration.

The White House in Daylesford, Australia

Bed linens do not have to be fancy; in fact, my motto is “the simpler, the better.” In this guest room, crisp white sheets, a striped red duvet, a simple flour sack pillow sham and a knitted throw, draped casually at the bottom of the bed, complete a stunning bedroom tableau. Do you see how the bed actually calls to you? It’s the signal that you have mastered the bed linens.  The White House, Daylesford, Australia

Simple bed linens are best in vacation rentals

Simple bed setups appeal to guests more than fussy, tucked in monstrosities. House in Venice, a vacation rental in Venice, California, has only a white duvet cover, a cotton coverlet, grey sheets and lambskin shams and it’s wholesomely luxurious. House design by Chinese Jesus.

2. The Camel – otherwise known as the Ungainly “Brownish-Tannish” Couch

Let me guess. The typical reasoning behind buying a big, brownish-tannish couch is it’s ample enough to fit a bunch of guests; its color, being nondescript, will go with everything else in the room. You assume that because the color is neutral, everyone will like it, or at least not hate it. It’s tannish-brownish color and fabric – typically polyester something – will last many years, cutting down on upholstering later. And if it’s big and chunky, it’s comfortable, right?

The Characterless Beige Sofa

The ugly and characterless brownish-tannish couch is found in way too many vacation rentals. The fabric is almost always synthetic, the body is chunky and ungainly (never sleek and sexy) and the color is usually an unappealing color somewhere between brown and tan. They are sometimes L-shaped, like the one shown here. It actually hurts to look at this photo!

 Wrong! In so many, many ways.

Before I explain why let me ask you something.

Would you put a camel in your living room?

A Camel does not belong in your vacation rental

If you translate a camel into a sofa, you get The Camel Couch. Please, a camel does not belong in a vacation rental nor does a Camel Sofa.

After all, the reasoning is much the same. A camel is tannish-brownish so it goes with everything, it lives for a very long time, and it can carry heavy loads, including people. It’s low-maintenance. Practical. You can even dress it up a bit with interesting blankets and cushions, right?

How can that remotely be the same, you say? Who in their right mind would bring a camel into a vacation retreat? Aside from the inconveniences of having a live (pooping) animal in your midst, it’s ugly.

It’s hideous.

And they even spit!

Well, I hate to break it to you but your beige, lumpy couch is equally unbecoming. It’s ugly and equally out of place in your vacation rental.

Let’s call it a Camel Couch for convenience sake, shall we?

Camel couches look shoddy, like you haven’t put much thought into furnishings. Their surface feels like cheap motel fabric, as if you bought it at the cheapest discount Furniture Warehouse (and admit it, you probably did). They are lumpy, ungainly and dowdy. The color is boring too.

If it’s an L-shape, even worse. The L-shaped couch, invented to fit more people into the sitting area, rarely works. The exceptions are the really expensive Italian designed ones, who have mastered the L-shape, but then again, they are REALLY EXPENSIVE. And we don’t want to spend obscene amounts of money in a vacation rental (we just want it to look like we did).

So what’s the solution?

Get rid of it!

Camel Couches are money losers. Potential guests take one look and run to the next listing. Literally!

Another lost booking. In the wink of an eye.

How to Fix It

Get a shapely, sexy ‘sofa’ (notice I say “sofa,” which is a much more appealing word and applies to the much more appealing piece of furniture), gorgeous in its own right. A sofa is able to stand alone and still be eye-stopping.

Start by thinking of the most elegant and stunning person you know, and then translate them into a sofa, or imagine a movie star, a woman like Cate Blanchett, or Naomi Campbell, or a man like Daniel Craig or Sean Connery. They are unique, elegant and confident. If they magically transformed into a sofa, what would they look like?

Got your image?

Now put that in your vacation rental.

A sofa can be neutral, but it’s neutral in a stunning way. A dark inky denim, deep chocolate brown or a well-heeled khaki color work perfectly.

Here are some inspiring sofas in some equally inspiring vacation homes. Look and learn….

The Palm Springs Sofa

Look at the lines on the sofa above – stunning! Not brownish-tannish. Instead, it’s a rich, chocolate brown, like Argentinian hot chocolate. I’ll bet it wasn’t expensive either. The owner probably found it at a flea market or on Craig’s List and then simply re-upholstered. And it’s comfortable too (I checked out the guest reviews). Book it here.

NY Vacation Rental Sofa

Here’s a slipcovered beauty in the Catskills, NY. The deep blue contrasts nicely with the wheat colored pillows and the side chairs. Doesn’t it make you want to kick back and read that novel you have been putting off? Or even better, take a long, deep, Sunday nap? Book it and you can. Oh, wait! So many other guests like it too that you’ll have to wait five more months. That’s what happens when vacation rentals are gorgeous.

 3. The Wallflower – Otherwise Known as the Ugly Plastic or Faux Wood TV Stand

You probably know that having a great television in your vacation rental will please guests, right? It’s one of the checklist items the big listing sites will tell you to have to attract guests. Even better? Include a gaming system with dish or cable, with every channel imaginable, and you’re styling?

Good move. Doing so has been proven to attract bookings.

And yet….

Have you ever really considered what the television set-up should look like?

If not, I worry about your chances of getting potential guests to linger on your listing.

Too few vacation rental owners use design strategy in setting up their television entertainment; the misconception starts with assuming that because you have a flat screen television with all accompanying wonder – gaming equipment, DVD player, Apple TV – you will automatically get more bookings.

So along with the nice flat screen television, you also buy the cheap plastic black stand (why is it always black?!) with the shelves below, place your TV on top, make sure it’s included in a photo, and list all its bells and whistles and you’re done.

Huge mistake.

Why? Because presenting your uber-cool television on a cheap plastic or fake wood stand is actually doing the reverse of what you want it to. Without meaning to, you have created a Wallflower.

And Wallflowers repel guests, not attract them.

Refresh your memory of what a wallflower is. According to Wikipedia…

In social situations, a wallflower is a shy or unpopular individual who doesn’t socialize or participate in activities at social events. He or she may have other talents but usually does not express them in the presence of other individuals. The term comes from the image of a person isolating themselves from areas of social activities at ballroom dances and parties where the people who did not wish to dance (or had no partner) remained close to the walls of the dance hall.

You get the gist, right? Your television set-up may have everything a die-hard couch potato guest could ever dream of, but who’s going to notice if it’s standing there alone, ugly in the corner? Who’s going to care?

Take a glance at the photo below to see what I’m talking about.

Ugly TV in vacation rental

It took me less than three minutes (yes, I timed it) to find the photo above. Sadly, this is more common than not, and is an instant desire killer. The TV’s cords are showing, it’s probably not high enough for viewers eyes, the videos below look unkempt and messy and the stand looks like it came from a Going Out of Business TV Outlet in a bad part of town. This TV looks like it belongs in the lounge of a fraternity house instead of a vacation retreat. The only things missing from the photo are some empty beer bottles to complete the picture. And look, the room also has a Camel Couch. Yikes!

 Next listing!

You just lost another booking.

How to Fix It

Sheath your television and it’s accouterments chic-ly and you will get a lot more clicks. Try putting it in an armoire or perched in the middle of a bookshelf. Mount it above the mantel. Even more simple, find a gorgeous trunk or console table and put it on that. It will pay off.

Here are several examples…

Bookshelf has a television inside

This La Loma, California cottage has perched the television on the middle niche of a bookshelf, housing the DVD player and gaming system directly below, thereby featuring it along with other unique treasures in a becoming fashion. The two chairs in front actually swivel around both ways, allowing guests to either face the living area or the TV. Clever!

Chic TV Stand in Vacation Rental

A television does not have to be hidden; as long as the stand is fetching, people will respond. There is a nice contrast here between the white TV stand and the black television. (Also take note of the sofa draped with red fabric on the right. It might have been a camel in a former incarnation). Go see it here.


TV cleverly hidden behind accordian doors

Here is one of the most creative TV cabinets I’ve ever seen. The accordion doors above the fireplace open to reveal, not only a flat screen television but also a complete gaming system. If you live in the Bay Area of California, you can call Krueger and Company, Inc. and have something similar built. Krueger’s daughter, Eva, a talented Bay Area artist, painted the tree on the front.

Inspired? Good! Now your guests will really notice your television and actually be excited about the movies and the cable and the gaming! See? Not so hard.

To Wrap it Up

After reading these booking-killing design mistakes, you might feel a little discouraged and say to yourself, “Wow! I am guilty of all of these or at least one of them. I’ve really messed up. Where should I begin?”

I would say in order of importance: get rid of the Granny Bedspread followed by the Wallflower TV setup and lastly, either donate or reinvent your Camel Sofa.

And then pat yourself on the back that you no longer have just another boring vacation rental that no one wants to book! You have started the journey of having a really chic, bookings-magnet of a vacation home stay.

Anything I missed? Post below and tell me about it. I learn a ton from my readers and welcome your feedback! So comment away!

Oh! And I’d love it if you share this message, so press one of the little social media buttons and have a great day!

  • Wow, we are honored that you featured The Cottage! Good to know that we’re on the right track with the ‘Wallflower’ ;-)
    Another great article – as usual!

    • Amy, your place is gorgeous! I love everything about it and you serve as a great example of a chic vacation retreat! Thanks for the feedback!

  • Tyann Marcink

    Mercedes, so spot on with these three things. I am totally guilty of clicking away from a listing when I see the granny bedspread. The rest of the listing had better be over the top compelling for me to still consider it.

    When we shopped for the couches for our places, we literally sat in nearly every single couch in every single furniture store in the greater St. Louis area, about a 60 mile radius. We were concerned with comfort and style. Finally found the couch we liked and ordered several, including an all red one.

  • Hi Mercedes
    Thanks for featuring my Mid Century Modern house in Palm Springs. You are right, the sofa was not expensive but bought as is at a parking lot sale – Lucky me! Everyone loves the comfort of the french mattress style and the color worked perfectly after painting the beams in the house a similar color. Thanks again for a great article!

    • Thanks James for commenting on your sofa re-invention. Other owners will learn a ton simply by looking through all your photos and guest reviews. You’ve truly created an inspiring retreat!

  • What a great article Mercedes with terrific information. I see so many boring vacation rentals every year. In the course of my job as an agency owner I probably visit over 100 each year, and perhaps 10% of those meet the mark in decor. Keep these posts coming – i’d love to see more.

  • Thank you Heather! I definitely will. Love your blog!

  • Thank you for the photos of do/not do… showed them to my husband (especially re:TV stand) – loved his ah ha moment.

  • Maesywerngoch

    Yep, TV stand stuff a good reminder about. I actually think you could write/advise more about this in terms of alternative ‘looks’, stands etc. A necessary evil. And you are right, I assume that I have ‘state of the art’ TV etc that everyone would be happy with but it has to look good.

    • Thanks Maesywerngoch, I will write another blog post specifically about the TV stand. Thanks for the suggestion!

  • Is mine a camel? You didn’t mention if leather made a difference…out of curiosity ;)

  • Love to travel 2014

    Mercedes, what do you recommend as a general rule for window treatments in more upscale rentals. I am going with white bedding with patterned/colorful bed throws or decorative pillow but I am stuck on window treatments. The walls are off white. Trim and mouldings are white. Ceiling fan and lamps are like an oil rubbed bronze kind of color. Furniture is dark wood. I was going to pull a neutral color like gold or green from the throw or pillow in each room to do the room curtains but I’m running out of time and also I don’t know if it is worth driving myself crazy over this. Should all the rooms have different curtains or do I just pick a neutral – off white, gold, green – and use it in all the rooms. I plan to keep the drapes simple with pinch pleat style on decorative rods with rings. I am in the Caribbean.
    Thanks. I would appreciate your thoughts.

    • Hi Love to Travel! Can you post a photo so I can see? Thanks!

      • Love to travel 2014

        This is an example of one room. The bedspread will be gone and will be replaced with the white bedding I mentioned and by a throw with the same fabric as you see there. I am replacing the curtains which are currently gold panels paired with offwhite sheers. Sheer fabric in the bedspread material was used for the valance. I want a more updated and less complicated look for the window treatments. I’m stuck on the color more than anything else. Thanks

        • What a pretty bed! Ok, so because your walls are painted white, I’d go with very simple curtains with some nice patterns. I love West Elm and Anthropologie for curtains. I can’t see if your ceilings are low or high. If they are low, hang your curtains at ceiling height to make them appear higher. I’m so glad you are getting white bedding to give some contrast to that stunning bed. Love the potted palm in the corner too. Good luck!

  • Summer Cottage

    Oh my! I seem to have the granny quilt AND the camel couch but the living room is small and can only fit a very small couch – any ideas to my my cottage sexier?


    • Hi Valerie, I just saw your email a little earlier on why you subscribed to 1 Chic Retreat. I love your cottage! The colors are perfect. I dont’ think this is a granny bedspread. However, it would be nice folded at the bottom of the bed and paired with bright white sheets. Those bedside lights don’t look very bright either. I’d sit there and read and see if it’s bright enough. As for making your cottage sexier, read this:

      I don’t think you have a Camel Sofa. However, I’d put some more colorful pillows on your sofa. Liven it up a bit. West Elm and CB2 are both excellent, fairly affordable sources.

      Thanks for joining the community and thanks for sharing your cottage with us.

      • Summer Cottage

        Hello Mercedes,
        You inspired me to dramatically up the quality of the bedding and towels to 1000 tc Egyptian cotton at my cottage and this is what I just purchased (we have a honeymoon couple coming in May) ~ Now the bedroom will be mostly crisp white and blue with a touch of yellow in the top pillow sham ~I’ll send the final made bed once I receive these – Thanks for your advice!

        • Oh my gosh, how gorgeous! What brand of sheets did you buy? I’m always looking for good, dependable brands.

          • Summer Cottage

            Sure! They were all available on Groupon:

            Kathy Ireland Coverlet Set: F-Q/Blue $29.99

            Italian Hotel Collection1000 Thread Count 6 Piece Sheet Set: White/Celestial Blue-Q $59.99

            Chateau Towel Set: Star White $38.99

          • Thanks! Let me know how you like them, ok?

          • Summer Cottage

            will do. :)

          • Summer Cottage

            Hi Mercedes ~ I wanted to send you the redone bedroom at Summer Pines Cottage with all the new bedding I bought back in January – what do you think?


          • Blue and yellow marry so well! I love both the textures and layering as well! Fantastic!

          • Summer Cottage

            So glad you like it and thanks for your “how to make a bed” suggestions.

      • Summer Cottage

        HI Mercedes,

        Here is the livingroom with a white couch instead of a camel colored one :)

        • Gorgeous! Nice transformation. I would hang the painting a bit lower though. Bring it down about 6 inches. Otherwise, fantastic!

          • Summer Cottage

            Thank you – will do :)

  • I loved your irony to make these crucial points Mercedes, great article, thanks! On TV stands, my favourite is the one that hides the TV. I don’t have a TV at home and I have a small one in my vacation rental just for families who desperately need it when they want to enjoy a quiet aperitif in the terrace while their kids watch cartoons and can be hypnotised for a while :-). The solution you proposed with the painted tree was genuinely beautiful! My challenge is the sofa, I have a stairs’ layout in my attic that does not allow a larger sofa to go thru. It has to be a double sofa bed and what is called “click clack” is the only solution that goes thru my stairs. My terraces don’t face the street so I cannot upload the dream sofa from upside. And sofa beds have a piece of structure that cannot be disassembled into small enough pieces. I have spent huge amount of hours on the internet and on decoration shops in Barcelona to find some solution but stil unsolved. I wonder if you have any idea… Thanks again for such a great article full of smart and usable decoration advices! Paola

    • Hi Paola, I don’t know if the Sactional ( by Lovesac is available in Europe, but it might be worth looking into. It’s a modular setup that also turns into a sofa bed. If not available, there has to be something similar in your neck of the world. Have you thought of this?

      • Thanks Mercedes! Lovesac broke my heart! I had discovered it in your previous blog. Sactional is beautiful and it is perfect for small places. I would have bought the sofa and two other elements to make it a double bed. Perfect for small places also….but they ship in the US and don’t have any distributor in Europe. It was really the perfect recommendation Mercedes. I will keep looking :-).

        • I would find a custom furniture builder then and have something similar built.




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